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    25 Years of Kung Pao Kosher Comedy™: San Francisco’s Longest-Running Comedy Show

    San Francisco’s annual Jewish Christmas tradition, Kung Pao Kosher Comedy™, celebrates it 25th Anniversary this December 23–25. The legendary Jewish-comedy-on-Christmas-in-a-Chinese-restaurant extravaganza has been featuring famous Jewish comedians—including the late Henny Youngman and Shelley Berman—Chinese food, and Yiddish proverbs in its fortune cookies (“With one tuchus, you can’t dance at 2 weddings”) since 1993. Kung Pao is San Francisco’s longest-running comedy show and caters to over 2000 people annually, some of whom have attended every year.

    Kung Pao takes place over the course of 3 nights during Christmas (December 23–25) with 2 shows a day: a 5 pm Dinner Show (7-course banquet) and an 8:30 pm Cocktail Show (vegetarian dim sum)—for a total of six shows. In the spirit of the retirement communities in Florida, all shows are now Early Birds, starting an hour earlier than they used to in past years.

    Kung Pao, which was created in 1993, is the brainchild of San Francisco-based Jewish comedian, Lisa Geduldig, and solves the age-old question, “What are Jews supposed to do on Christmas?” That October in ’93, Geduldig was booked to perform at The Peking Garden Club in South Hadley, Massachusetts, at what she imagined would be a comedy club, but upon her arrival she discovered it was a Chinese restaurant.

    A phone conversation the following day with an old friend from Jewish summer camp about the irony of telling Jewish jokes at a Chinese restaurant led to the idea of Jewish comedy on Christmas in a Chinese restaurant, and a brainstorming session of Jewish, comedy, and Chinese food-related words led to the name, “Kung Pao Kosher Comedy™.” The creation of “Kung Pao” is a twist on the unwritten law that Jews must go to a Chinese restaurant and a movie on Christmas. Geduldig will appear in a new Canadian documentary, I’m Dreaming of a Jewish Christmas, which will air on Canadian and European TV this December.

    We recently caught up with Geduldig, as she was working on the finishing touches for this year’s silver anniversary edition of Kung Pao.

    San Francisco Bay Times: Congratulations on 25 years of Kung Pao, a great and clever concept that seems to become more relevant with each passing year. Please share some of your thoughts about the event’s history, from those earliest shows to the present.

    Lisa Geduldig: I started Kung Pao Kosher Comedy™ in 1993 when I was 31 and had been doing stand up for 4 years. I had never produced an event before but had the idea of Jewish comedy on Christmas in a Chinese restaurant and couldn’t get it out of my head. I thought the event would take place once, but it sold out, and each year I continued to add shows, and they continued to sell out. And here we are in 2017 celebrating our 25th (Silver) Anniversary, and I’m pushing 56. Who would’ve thought? Henny Youngman graced our stage (in 1997 at the age of 91) for his last show ever. Shelley Berman and David Brenner have performed, as have a veritable who’s who of Jewish comedians: Carol Leifer, Elayne Boosler, Judy Gold, and many others.

    This year, I decided to do a “Best of” and bring back 3 past headliners: Cathy Ladman, Wendy Liebman, and Gary Gulman.

    San Francisco Bay Times: How has Kung Pao evolved over time?

    Lisa Geduldig: We started in 1993 with one show. We now have 6 shows over the course of 3 days. We have big names; household name comedians headline. Henny Youngman headlining the show on its 5th year put the show on the map, as did the New York Times article (http://www.nytimes.com/1994/12/24/arts/jewish-comics-make-it-a-not-so-silent-night.html) we scored the second year. We have repeat attendees who come every year; some started with a party of 2 and grew to reserving a full table of 10.

    The lineup used to be a combination of queer and straight Jewish comics, as it was last year, but I need more comics to come out or switch teams. I’m the only queer comic this year, but everyone is LGBT friendly. And no one voted for Trump.

    The charity aspect began spontaneously at the first show. Since, we have raised 10’s of 1000s of dollars for various charities (https://www.koshercomedy.com/beneficiaries/). The concept of Tzedakah—charity, with social responsibility. We founded a “Comedy Clinic” at the local Jewish nursing home. The bi-weekly class continues to this day. It’s one of our proudest accomplishments.

    The shows have gotten earlier! They used to take place at 6 pm and 9:30 pm, but a few years ago in the middle of the 9:30 pm show I thought, “This is too late for me!” So now they’re at 5 pm and 8:30 pm, Early Birds, in the spirit of the State Bird of Florida.

    San Francisco Bay Times: To what do you attribute Kung Pao’s timeless appeal? So many other comedy shows have failed or otherwise just aged out, but yours keeps going strong.

    Lisa Geduldig: Two thousand people still attend each year (3 days/2 shows a day). We’ve given thousands of people in the San Francisco Bay Area and beyond a tradition. Kung Pao has served to give Jews and others who don’t celebrate Christmas a sense of belonging at a time when many feel alienated. Some “Kung Pao-ites” have attended for 20+ years; one couple comes up from L.A. every year. We’ve formed a family. And we’ve lost some of our Kung Pao attendees who have become family members including: Howard Siegel (PFLAG dad/father of Stuart Siegel) and Marty Sussman (father of queer journalist, Matt Sussman).

    The event is still popular because of the concept and because we offer stellar entertainment. Every year, the regular customers tell me, “This was the best year yet.” The show will continue for as many years as 2000 people still want to attend.  

    For tickets and additional information: http://www.koshercomedy.com